With each passing year, it becomes clearer that using art as activism is an incredibly powerful way of combining strengths to evoke change. In my search of those who actively pursue both, I had the honor of connecting with Allison Santos; a proud genderqueer Asian-American with a background in creativity and a passion for the LGBTQ+ community and minorities. As a staff member at the Los Angeles LGBT Center, co-creator of Pearl Girls Productions, and co-founder of 2100 Photography, Allison is the perfect person to start this series with.
How do you think growing up in a Filipino family helped shape you as a person? Have you always lived in Los Angeles?
I am a Los Angeles County native, I was born and raised in the South Bay. I used to go home to the Philippines every other year growing up, so I feel like my culture is very strong in me and resonates with who I am and my identity. Particularly the language, because a lot of people in my generation do not speak Tagalog anymore, but I am fluent. There are a lot of advantages with being able to understand and speak the language, because it brings you closer to the community. I think being in LA is a blessing, because there are so many different cultures here. Growing up in a big city like this exposed me to a lot more than your average middle-America town.
You proudly claim your genderqueer identity and place in the LGBTQ+ community. When in your life did you come to terms with your identity, or did it happen in stages?
I think the general understanding is that coming out is this one large event in someone’s life and it’s a big ordeal. But I think for me, there wasn’t one major thing. Earlier on as I was growing up, I remember the first crushes I got in Kindergarten were on both guys and girls, and I thought that was totally normal. Later that attraction became primarily women, but identifying as genderqueer resonates very strongly with me because I don’t limit myself to one gender, either to myself or what I am attracted to.
Do you consider your gender identity & sexual identity to be separate or connected?
I identify as genderqueer because I don’t consider myself just male or just female. When it comes to sexuality, I identify as queer because connection determines my attraction to someone, not necessarily their gender. There is something about the labels gay and lesbian that doesn’t quite ring true for me.
For many (especially the older generation), the word “queer” was considered a negative label. Could you explain the reappropriation of the term?
I remember getting backlash for the first time using that word in college (around 2004), on a speaking panel regarding the community, and when I said I identified as queer, an older gay man next to me gasped… during his upbringing “queer” was derogatory and a slur. It opened up a discussion about how over time the younger generations have taken back the word and offered more alternative, empowering meanings.
**FUN FACT: THE Q in LGBTQ+ stands for both queer and questioning.
You started as an Activities Coordinator of Senior Services at the LA LGBT Center. How did you initially get involved with this organization, and what did your duties consist of in that department?
Before this I was working at Apple and was also the Director of Advocacy for a Filipino LGBTQ+ group called Barangay LA, so that was what sparked my interest in trying it full time. I decided to quit Apple and also decided I would work at the LGBT Center one day! I initially interviewed for a different department and didn’t get it, but they passed along my resume to another department and hired me soon after. It combines a passion of mine (event planning) and activism with a community I care deeply about. I’ve really gained insight from the seniors and the wisdom they have to offer. The things you read about in LGBT history, these people were there!
With the Orlando tragedy, we all got news of it at LA Pride with a bus full of Seniors. We’re setting up, in work mode, and suddenly the news breaks. Being on that bus full of seniors and seeing how calm they were was shocking and reassuring. They told me how they’ve gone through this before, and it won’t be the last time. Of course they were devastated, but their perspective was much different than those who were my age. But none of them wanted to leave Pride, they stood their ground, and that was really moving.
How can someone get more involved with the LA LGBT Center?
I think there are a lot of untapped resources at this center that many people don’t know exist! The biggest thing someone can do is either volunteer or donate. Sign up, go to orientation, and then you’re ready to volunteer for all the different departments. The best thing is to go online and research which part resonates with you, and contact them through there. There are several locations all over Los Angeles. www.lalgbtcenter.org
Stay tuned for PART 2, coming soon!
- Allison’s Website
- Catch her on The Malaya Project and her episode on MYX TV.
- Season 1 of That’s What She Said